IS Christmas a time of celebration, goodwill, thanksgiving and merriment? Or is it about gluttony, stress, TV, money worries and cash-grabbing commercialisation?
Whether Christmas fills you with seasonal joy or sends your blood pressure soaring, the issue of festivals and whether they add to feelings of well-being will be explored by Durham University’s Professor Chris Cook in a public talk today.
The lecture is one of a series of talks on calendars and festivals, which in turn is part of a general investigation of the concept of time by the university’s Institute of Advanced Study.
Calendars divide up time and festivals provide set landmarks. These include set religious events like Christmas and Easter, the Jewish Passover, Islamic, Indian and Chinese festivals, and pagan celebrations such as the summer solstice.
They also extend to events from the Olympic Games and music festivals to the Durham Miners’ Gala.
Prof Cook, from Durham University’s Department of Theology and Religion, and a practitioner in the Tees, Esk & Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, will explore the relationship between festivals and wellbeing.
“Recent research has explored various aspects of spirituality in relation to health and wellbeing, but festivals are conspicuously absent from this research,” he said.
“The lecture is a foray into this field. Are festivals good for us? Do they contribute to our wellbeing?”
The overall study is looking at how time has been tracked in the past and how technological advances in ways of measuring time have changed people’s experiences of it.
One aspect being examined is the experience of time in the Western world based on the interplay of a weekly structure and annual festivals.
We now live in an age which is acutely conscious of time. One of the questions is whether in our increasingly 24/7 society, co-ordinated social rituals like annual festivals have begun to lose their relevance.
Prof Cook said that evidence suggests that people are better able to cope with life if there is a spiritual element to their own lives, whether religious or a connection to the natural world.
Festivals could play a part by giving people a bigger broader picture and perspective, away from everyday life.
“Events like the Durham Miners’ Gala have given people a sense of community and belonging,” he said. “Festivals are bigger than the individual and can give a sense of hope.”
The free lecture is in Room 140 at Elvet Riverside, New Elvet, at 6.15pm tonight.